Wake up! How Rolex 24 drivers stay alert working the graveyard shift

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There are many ways – a hot shower, a steaming espresso, a soothing massage – to awaken from a midrace nap for a post-midnight stint in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Or you could try just staying up for 24 consecutive hours.

Having regretfully tried that in his 2006 debut, A.J. Allmendinger advises getting some rest.

“I drank like 14 Red Bulls during the night – not great for hydration by the way — so I didn’t sleep the whole time,” said Allmendinger, whose Michael Shank Racing team finished second in his first endurance race. “I wasn’t right for three days after that. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to kind of pace myself. I still don’t sleep a lot because especially when it’s going well, I’m so amped up. I’m always afraid if I close my eyes, I’m going to wake up and we’ll be out of the race for some reason.

“But I do try to stay off my feet when I’m not in the car and just rest. Because it’s 24 hours for a reason, so you really have to pace yourself.”

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Every driver seems to have their own method for finding the necessary jolt of adrenaline to stay alert and engaged while whipping around Daytona’s road course at 180 mph at 3 a.m.

Rolex 24 rookie Kyle Busch joked that he simply would skip signing up for the graveyard shift. But with stints generally in the 45-minute range, and the race split between three to four drivers per car, the middle-of-the-night knock on the motorhome door is unavoidable.

“I always say I hate driving between 2 and 4 in the morning and 90 percent of the time, I end up driving there,” Acura Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya said with a laugh. “I like trying to get a bit of a nap, but it is hard. We only do three drivers. If you do a double stint, that is an hour and a half. You get out of the car, and by the time you get a massage and go eat, they will be calling you in 40 minutes.”

Montoya’s routine is usually a massage, a meal, another massage and a shower.

“Then I get in my underwear that I am going to drive in, lay my uniform down on the floor and close the door, lights out,” he said. “I do not psyche myself up or do any of that. I just get in and drive the car. All my life I have been like that.”

Cars streak past the Ferris wheel in the horseshoe (courtesy of IMSA).

Staying habitual is important. Montoya repeats his routine whether exiting his car at 4 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning. His teammate Helio Castroneves said he got the same advice from sports car veteran Allan McNish to “do your due diligence” after every stint.

Sometimes, getting to sleep can be the hard part, “particularly when your number is near the top of the scoring pylon,” Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor said.

Teammate Oliver Gavin said disconnecting from the event and electronic devices (except maybe some noise-canceling headphones) also is useful.

“You’re trying to work on all the different things you can just to switch off,” Gavin said. “Put your phone away, stop looking at timing and scoring, take the radio off, put that away. You’ve really got to separate yourself away from the race, to try and get that hour, two hours, three hours of sleep so you then can come back refreshed to then jump back in the car”

Crew members often are napping in the pits during a Rolex 24 at Daytona (Marc Serota/Getty Images).

But it still can be difficult to arise from a deep sleep on a cozy bed.

“You know you’ve got to get up and get ready to go out there and drive almost 200 mph on the banking and get right to work,” LMP2 driver Colin Braun said. “You’re trying to get woken back up and get in gear so I try to get in a little bit of physical activity. I always carry a jump rope with me and kind of just warm up to get kind of the muscles going and the blood flowing. It’s always kind of fun and also painful to try to get going.”

Alexander Rossi has an old reliable: caffeine. Though it still doesn’t entirely do the trick when rising from a 1 a.m. slumber.

“I have an espresso, get my stuff on, get in the car, and it’s not really until I’m kind of idling down pit lane where you kind of wake up,” said Rossi, who will make his second start with Penske this year. “You’re still a little bit out of it just because it’s weird, right? You shouldn’t be doing this at 2 o’clock in the morning.

“And by the time you kind of get to the end of pit lane, and you take the pit speed limiter off, there’s enough adrenaline that you just kind of default back to the mode that you were last in and that’s the cool part about this race. Throughout the process you’re like ‘Why’d I do this? Why are we here? This is so long. This is such a pain,’ and then you know at the end you’re kind of like, ‘OK, can’t wait for next year.’

“It’s that race that always pulls you back, and it’s that challenge — especially during the middle of the night — that makes it so special.”

A prototype race car is silhouetted by the headlights of other cars while racing at night during the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).

Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

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The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

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The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images